If Bert Larsson is an indication of what any 80-year-old lifelong outdoorsman looks like, there should be a pretty long line following his trail.
That path would likely be somewhere along a cross-country skiing track – and the pack would probably be hard-pressed to keep up with him.
Fresh from his daily workout at the YMCA, the Everett resident sits back in a chair in what he calls his “bachelor pad,” which he built about five years ago on Rucker Hill.
He’s all smiles, yukking it up as he tells stories of his first trip to the Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley in 1960.
Larsson is a happy man, and you can attribute that, at least in part, to more than seven decades on the trails.
“I get down in the dumps, too,” Larsson said. “But I have my own psychiatrist. My psychiatrist is the snow and my skis.
“When I’m there, I’m in a different world. I forget all the problems there.”
Larsson has spent virtually his entire life on skis, but the appeal is as strong as ever.
He takes to the cross-country tracks around Stevens Pass three or four times each week and proudly shows off his new Madshus Hypersonic skis, which are top-of-the-line in his sport.
They’re a far cry from his first pair, which his father made from a birch tree in Sweden.
A neighbor waxed them, using black tar, and they propelled him to his first competitive victory – against the neighbor’s son.
“I won a toothbrush, toothpaste and a pair of socks,” Larsson said. “I’ve been skiing ever since.”
Over the years, Larsson has seen his competitors come and go. And lately, the number of folks his age in competition is thinning.
“There’s not too many left,” Larsson said. “It used to be a long line, but that’s why I think I’m going to get a lot of medals now.”
Larsson recently came up big again, but the reward had nothing to do with dental hygiene. He scored three gold medals at the 2006 World Masters Cup in Italy, days before the Winter Olympics began in Turin.
“He’s a real inspiration,” said Bob Wieneke, a friend of Larsson’s for the past five years. “He is a great influence because of all of his activities, and I really marvel at him for all he does and what he’s accomplished.”
Larsson doesn’t find it all that remarkable. He just couldn’t imagine life any other way.
“I go down to the YMCA, and this is what people are telling me, that I am something they can look up to,” Larsson said. “But it works two ways, too. Because the reason I go up in the morning is because people are happy and people are exercising. So they inspire me, too.
“I inspire them, but they inspire me, too.”
Beyond the incredible athletic feats, though, Larsson is just an interesting guy.
He was trained as a carpenter in Sweden, a skill with which he earned his living after his arrival in the United States in 1956.
“I played soccer (in Sweden), and when I turned 30, they kicked me off because I was too old,” Larsson said. “So I came to the United States because I wanted to see something new.”
A neighbor had moved to Seattle, so that’s where Larsson made his first stop.
“I was going to come here for a couple, three years, just to see something different,” Larsson said.
He learned English on the job as a carpenter, “when I worked, you know: two-by-four, two-by-six, two-by-eight. That’s how I learned English.”
That was 50 years ago.
Now he teaches Swedish at night classes in Mount Vernon.
The only thing he no longer does is referee soccer games, which he did for many years.
But he always went back to the snow.
“I was married, but, you know, I guess I ski too much,” Larsson said, adding that his wife, Christina, left him 14 years ago. “Now, I can do it full time.”
Larsson continues to ski with his youngest daughter, Suzanne, and he’s planning on skiing full time until it’s just not possible anymore.
“I’ll be at the club and people, many times, they figure, ‘Well, he’s done now, he’s too old,’” Larsson said. “People should never tell me that, because I’ll do the opposite. No, they do a mistake if they say that.”
Larsson remembers the words of a sergeant back in Sweden, where he served as a soldier in an engineering corps.
“He told us, ‘For an engineering soldier, there is nothing impossible, just go,’” Larsson said. “And that’s the way life is. If you want to do it, you know, you can do it.
“If I’m going to die, I’d rather die in the ski track than die at something else.”
Reporter Victor Balta: 425-339-3455 or email@example.com.